The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
After a trio of deeply personal albums in the mid-2000s, the past few Mountain Goats‘ records have had very set themes. On The Life of the World to Come, every songs was named after a Bible verse. On last year’s All Eternals Deck, every track referred to a fictional set of Tarot cards. Transcendental Youth is much looser concept: a group of people in desperate situations waiting to see the light.
The album opens with “Amy (AKA Spent Gladiator I).” On the track, John Darnielle unwittingly seems to explore the concept of “YOLO.” He introduces the song by singing “do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive” and then goes on to suggest things like jumping in front of trains, playing with matches, and getting ugly tattoos with the only caveat being “just stay alive.”
On “White Cedar,” we get different perspective on living. There is a spiritual awakening on the track while waiting for a bus. Darnielle sings “I was standing by the bus stop on Northeast 33rd when I got the word/I will be made a new creature on bright day/I don’t have to be afraid.” The enlightenment of the lyrics are enhanced by the musical arrangement which includes lush horns, long drawn out piano chords, and sparse drums.
The lush horns are something that continue throughout the album but most of the time are in stark contrast to the subject matter being sung. The album’s closer and titular track, “Transcendental Youth” has the most Burt Bacharach sounding arrangement of the bunch. The horns are juxtaposed by Darnielle’s lyrics of “sing in the night/in the nameless dark/father long gone but we bare his mark.”
The consistency of the musical arrangements and the mind set of the characters makes Transcendental Youth one of the best Mountain Goat albums since those mid-2000 personal albums. The lyrics feel confessional while clearly being fictional. Each track is like a well-written short story. While the message might not always be inspirational or uplifting, it is always interesting and what more could you want out of your literature?
MP3: The Mountain Goats “White Cedar”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl